In their own words: Building a Better MyanmarSep 15, 2020
Kyaw Myo Oo works for People in Need (PIN) in Rakhine State, Myanmar, supporting internally displaced people (IDPs). The 31-year-old explains how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted humanitarian work, and his own life.
How did you become a humanitarian worker? Why did you choose this work?
Myanmar is still a developing country seeking to grow, which makes support for non-governmental and civil society organisations crucial. The country has faced a number of challenges that have slowed its development, including natural disasters and internal conflicts. I became a humanitarian worker to help my peers and my country overcome these problems. I have worked in a number of different sectors, including emergency responses to natural disasters, regional development, humanitarian assistance, and social cohesion.
Why did you join PIN?
When I heard about PIN’s programmes, rules, and regulations, and implementation process in the field, I decided I wanted to be part of the organisation. I have been a member of the PIN team for almost two years.
What are your responsibilities?
I work as a Distribution Field Officer for the emergency project in Rakhine State. I am responsible for the coordination and management of the camp. I help conflict-affected IDPs get access to shelter and other forms of assistance.
What does your average day in the field look like?
I arrive at the office at 8:30 am and start collecting information from all of the IDP sites. I check the list of non-food items in the warehouse, and prepare documentation on the COVID-19 measures we must take before and after distributions. During the pandemic, we have also had to be very careful to check whether the health message posters are in place, and we perform sound checks on the megaphones. I also follow up on the post-distribution assessments I receive from the field.
How has COVID-19 changed your work?
COVID-19 has changed my work in a number of ways. For instance, we now must socially distance when we do awareness-raising activities in the IDP camps, meaning they take much longer than usual [to conduct]. We have to prepare our personal protection equipment (PPE) before we go to the field. In addition, there are many precautions and guidelines that we have to follow during and after distributions in the camps.
How do you protect yourself and PIN’s beneficiaries?
We are washing our hands frequently, avoiding crowded places, and using PPE such as masks, gloves, and hand sanitiser. We are disposing of everything in bins in accordance with guidelines from the Ministry of Health and Sports. I am also participating in awareness sessions for our beneficiaries, which promote personal hygiene and disseminate COVID-19-related health messages.
Have new challenges arisen due to COVID-19, such as difficulties with access, stigmatisation, lack of trust, or other issues?
There are new challenges for everybody. Because of COVID-19, we don’t trust each other, it’s difficult for us to travel due to restrictions on how many people can gather, and we wonder which of us might be an asymptomatic carrier of the disease.
What are the biggest challenges or obstacles you have overcome? Can you share any lessons learned?
The biggest challenges for us are the length of the distribution process, during which we must wear our PPE, and the number of restrictions in the field. However, we have learned to more effectively manage the distribution process, to wash our hands frequently, and to use a hand speaker for delivering health messages and other announcements to our beneficiaries.
How has the life of people and communities changed due to the coronavirus?
Coronavirus has affected our lives in many ways. There are the economic effects, which have impacted our living conditions, in addition to fewer work opportunities, higher interest rates for borrowing money, and an increase in criminal activity. Our education system has also suffered, with school being postponed for many children.
Are you personally afraid of the disease or of the economic consequences connected with it?
I have concerns about the economic crisis. It may end up affecting our lives.
How is your family dealing with the new situation?
During the pandemic, we have tried to prepare ourselves for any situation that might affect my family or my community. We have stored food, drink, and essential medicines to get us through the pandemic.
Is it now more difficult to balance your work as a humanitarian worker with your family life?
Sometimes, it is difficult to manage my working life and my family life. As a humanitarian worker, I have to be careful not to transmit the virus to my family, to follow social distancing guidelines when I’m working, and to spend some money on maintaining good hygiene practices. During the lockdown, we saw a significant decrease in our family income, and we faced difficulties in filling these gaps in our budget.